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Pattern recognition: Governmental regulation of tartan and commodification of culture

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/11/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>International Journal of Cultural Property
Issue number4
Number of pages18
Pages (from-to)487-504
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


It is notoriously difficult to design and attach suitable legal rights to intangible cultural heritage (ICH), due to its nature as an evolving, living heritage. This article investigates the effects of government intervention relating to Scottish tartan in order to trace the relationship between formal proprietary rights, commodification, and cultural branding. The article proceeds in three steps: from (1) the historical context of the Jacobite rebellion and the subsequent Victorian assignment of the tartan to clans; to (2) the formation and function of the subsequent self-regulating community tartan registers; and (3) the 2009 governmental intervention with the establishment of a governmental tartan register, subsuming the community groups’ role in self-regulating tartan. While past ICH protection efforts have focused primarily on developing countries, the example of tartan raises wider concerns about the social and economic impact of the subtle erosion or, conversely, the ossification of living heritages. Finally, some alternatives are considered within the IP regime, such as sui generis protection, while highlighting the challenges of reconciling the domestic regulation of diverse ICH.